Monthly Archives: July 2015

Jul 21

How to Start a Blog

By Charles Hall | Technology

From time to time I have readers ask me how to start a blog or how I started mine.

Picture is courtesy of

Picture is courtesy of

I recently responded to a reader. Here’s that email (almost unedited, so it may be a little rough around the edges):

Dear Mary,

I have been blogging for about three years. I am not “expert,” but here are some thoughts. (You may already know all or some of what I will share.)

Use WordPress

You’ll need to get a blog hosting service. I use Host Gator (but there are several good ones).

I used an ebook from Amazon to guide me through the steps of setting up my blog: it’s called 30 Minutes to a WordPress Website.—Step-ebook/dp/B007KSK0KU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1436192256&sr=8-1&keywords=30+minutes+to+a+wordpress+website&pebp=1436192268240&perid=10305WX53RN06ZTYKSZ1

The book is just a $1 I think. Step by step instructions.

You might also check out Michael Hyatt’s post:  (He is the king of blogging/podcasting in my opinion and a really nice guy.)

Listen to Michael Hyatt’s Podcast: This is Your Life

I get plenty of good (free) ideas from listening to Michael’s podcast.

Pick a Nice Looking WordPress Theme 

There are plenty of nice looking free WordPress themes (I believe you get those when you download WordPress).

I use GetNoticed (as my WordPress theme); it is about $200.

Pick Your Interval for Posting

Your audience wants consistency, so if you can post at least once a week, that will be good. I try (but am not always successful).

Blogging Takes Longer Than I Anticipated

I had no idea how much time blogging would take, but it is substantial—usually at least five hours per week for me (and I do most of this at night). Even 500-word posts can take several hours. You may be able to do this much quicker than I.

Use Pictures

I purchase my pictures from; they are $1 each. They have a good selection. You will need to give attribution for each picture; I usually just put “Picture is courtesy of”

Readers love eye-candy. Video is even better (but that takes a great deal of time). You can embed videos into your posts. You will see an example on my sidebar at I shoot these with my camera at home. The cost for the camera, lights, microphone, etc. is about $1,500.

Traction Takes Time

It took, for me, about two years of posting to see any real traction. I now have about 300 to 400 visitors a day.

Stay Practical 

Readers want practical information that they can implement. CPAs love information that is useful (and free).

Build an Email List

Each person who subscribes to my blog provides me with their email address. 

You can build an email list by using GetResponse, AWebber, Mailchimp (and there are many more). I use GetResponse (which has a nominal cost but has more advanced features than MailChimp, which is free).

I offer free magnets (e.g., an ebook about fraud prevention) in exchange for the subscribers email address. Then I use my RSS feed to trigger weekly emails to my subscribers (providing them with all the new information I have posted). I can email those subscribers at any time (but I generally don’t do so unless I’ve got something really important to communicate—I try to keep my communications to a minimum—once a week). 

The Main Benefit


Readers come to know you as a person. I have built relationships through my blogging. People see that I am here for them.

Closing Thoughts

I started my blog as an effort to share what I’ve learned through the years and just to have the opportunity to become a better writer. I love blogging and am now considering a podcast.

Charles Hall

Closing Comment

If you are interested in blogging, I hope you will start one. If you have any questions, please post them here, and I will try to assist.

Jul 21

Red Flags of Governmental Fraud

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing , Fraud , Local Governments

Do you know the red flags of governmental fraud? Today I tell you what they are.

Fraud is detected by tips more than any other way–over 40% in the most recent Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ survey. And many of those tips came from employees who knew the signs of fraud.

How can governments make employees aware of fraud signals? Education.

red flags of governmental fraud

Picture is courtesy of

Would your employees recognize fraud if it were occurring? Some red flags are obvious. Others are not. Here are some sample governmental fraud red flags:

External Red Flags

  • Unexplained increases in the wealth of an accounting employee or elected official
  • Employee personal problems such as a divorce, substance abuse, financial difficulties, legal problems
  • Employee living beyond his or her means
  • Unusually close employee association with a vendor

Cash Receipts and Billing Red Flags

  • Taxpayer complaints concerning nonpayment notices (even though payment has been made)
  • A pattern of customer complaints in the utility billing and collection process
  • Substantial write-offs of receivables without support
  • Unexplained decreases in revenues
  • A pattern of missing receipt forms

Disbursements and Purchasing Red Flags

  • Altered or incomplete supporting documentation for disbursements
  • Purchasing party (e.g., department head) picking up processed vendor checks rather than accounts payable personnel mailing them
  • Unexplained increases in expenses
  • Excessive expenses when compared to the budget
  • Vendors without physical addresses

Payroll Red Flags

  • Employees with no or little payroll deductions
  • Excessive overtime expenses
  • Excessive payroll expenses when compared to the budget

Capital Assets Red Flags

  • Winning bid appears too high; all contractors submit consistently high bids
  • Qualified construction contractors not submitting bids
  • Reports of missing capital assets
  • A lack of accountability for capital assets

General Red Flags

  • A refusal by accounting personnel to take vacations
  • Unwillingness to share accounting duties
  • Employee irritability or defensiveness
  • Complaints about inadequate employee pay
  • A lack of transparency in accounting
  • Rumors of unethical conduct
  • A history of corruption in the government
  • Financial decisions made by one person with little or no accountability
  • Undocumented journal entries
  • Untimely bank reconciliations
  • Inexperienced or lax accounting personnel
  • Missing accounting records

Just because a red flag exists does not mean that fraud has occurred, but it’s still important to know the signs. Often where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Teaching employees the signals of fraud can save your government a great deal of money.

Jul 07

Nonattest Services and Independence: What Peer Reviewers are Looking For

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing , SSARS

Future peer reviews will have an increased focus upon nonattest services provided to attest clients. How do we know? Well, see the new peer review checklist questions below (for an attest engagement).

nonattest services

The big “no-no” is to assume management responsibilities and then perform an attest service. Here are additional questions from the peer review checklists. Notice the first item below: Accepting responsibility for the preparation and fair presentation of the client’s financial statements. The client must assume responsibility for the financial statements, even if we (as the CPA) prepare them.

If we prepare financial statements and perform an audit, review, or compilation, we have performed a nonattest service (preparation of financial statements) and an attest service (audit, review, compilation). Why is this important? Because if we perform a nonattest service and an attest service for the same client, we must assess our independence. And if we are not independent, then we can’t perform an audit or review engagement.


The peer review checklists also ask for:

  • The name and title of the client personnel overseeing the nonattest service and
  • A description of the accountant’s “assessment and factors leading to your satisfaction that the client personnel overseeing the service had sufficient skills, knowledge and experience”

Interestingly, later on in the peer review checklist (the one I’m presently referring to is the Not-for-Profit checklist), the following appears:

Does the auditor’s assessment of the skills, knowledge, and experience of client personnel overseeing non-attest services appear reasonable given indications within the engagement? Consider whether the auditor performed significant reconciliations and took into consideration the extent and significance of adjustments and journal entries, the control deficiencies, and so on.

Translation: If the auditor made several significant journal entries to clean up the records, does the client possess sufficient skill, knowledge, and experience?

Documentation of Nonattest Services

So do we need a new form to document our independence?

It certainly would not hurt to add a new form to document our independence. PPC offers such a form (and I am sure other work paper providers do the same). What I like about such forms (at least the one I have seen) is they provide us with a place to document all nonattest services and then to assess and document our client’s ability to assume responsibility for the nonattest services provided.

If the client can’t–or is unwilling to–assume responsibility for the financial statements, then we are not independent, and we cannot perform an audit or a review. This assumption of responsibility does not mean the client has the ability to create the financial statements, but it does mean that:

  • that the client will oversee the nonattest service,
  • that the client will evaluate the adequacy and results of the nonattest service, and
  • that the client will accept responsibility for the nonattest service

Documentation of the above in our engagement letters is sufficient to meet standards (even though I like the idea of adding a separate independence form to the file). We should–in the engagement letter–specify the nonattest services and the responsibilities of management.

We have, for some time now, included the client responsibility language (about overseeing, evaluating, and accepting) in our engagement letters. But the language referring to nonattest services usually addressed tax preparation, depreciation schedule preparation, bookkeeping and the like. Now preparation of financial statements should be included as another nonattest service (assuming the accounting firm prepares the financials, which we usually do).

The requirement to treat financial statement preparation as a nonattest service is effective for engagements covering periods beginning on or after December 15, 2014.

sample 5500s and audit reports
Jul 02

How to Find Sample 5500s and Audit Reports

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing

Do you need to see sample 5500s or benefit plan audit reports?

You can find them here.

The DOL search screen appears below:

sample 5500s and audit reports

Searching for “Chicago Academy” results in the following:

DOL results

Filings for plan years prior to 2009 are not displayed on this website. Many benefit plans are not required to have an audit (you will not see an audit report for those plans).